In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul declares that Christianity rises and falls on the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead. In verse 19, he says that if there is no resurrection of Christ from the dead, then Christians “are of all people most to be pitied.” Why is that? Paul lists several reasons, none of which is more significant that what he says in verse 17: “If Christ is not raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.”
Brothers and sisters, consider what this means. If Christ has not been raised, Paul says, then the most basic need of our hearts cannot be met. If God counts our sins against us—and we have all sinned—then there is no point in hoping for anything else from God. Forgiveness of our sin is the foundation of hope for any other blessing from God.
You might ask, “What bearing does the resurrection have on my forgiveness? After all, Paul says in Romans 5:9, ‘we have been justified by his blood,’ not by the resurrection.”
Here’s what I think Paul means. In Romans 4:25, Paul states that Jesus was “delivered up [crucified] for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” I think what Paul means by saying that Jesus was “raised for our justification” is that the resurrection is the reward Jesus earned for his perfect atoning sacrifice. God raised Jesus from death because his sacrifice on the cross was completely sufficient to pay for sin.
It stands, then, that if Jesus was not raised, Christ’s sacrifice was deficient, that Jesus’ blood was somehow insufficient to pay the full penalty for sin.
Therefore, even if I trust in Jesus’ death on the cross, if there is no resurrection it means I am trusting in an ineffective sacrifice, and I remain in my sin. If Christ has not been raised from death, his sacrifice on the cross was not enough to earn resurrection, not enough to pay for my sins, and not enough to deliver me from the clutches of hell my sin deserves.
But Christ has been raised from the dead!
There may be no better news in the Bible than what Paul reports in 1 Corinthians 15:20: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead.” Belief in the resurrection means I have forgiveness of sins. Christ’s payment for my sin on the cross was so complete, so satisfactory, that God affirmed his Son’s righteousness by raising him from death.
Every person longs to be accepted and loved by God. We long to be set free from sin and the crushing fear of being cut off from God because of our sin. The good news is that the resurrection proves that Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient, therefore God forgives those who are in Christ. This is why Paul was able to say to the Thessalonians, “For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him” (1 Thessalonians 4:14).